Rich pictures were particularly developed as part of Peter Checkland’s
Soft Systems Methodology for gathering information about a complex situation
(Checkland, 1981; Checkland and Scholes, 1990). The idea of using drawings or
pictures to think about issues is common to several problem solving or creative
thinking methods (including therapy) because our intuitive consciousness communicates
more easily in impressions and symbols than in words. Drawings can both evoke
and record insight into a situation, and different visualization techniques
such as visual brainstorming, imagery manipulation and creative dreaming have
been developed emphasizing one of these two purposes over the other (Garfield,
1976; McKim, 1980; Shone, 1984; Parker, 1990).
Rich pictures are drawn at the pre-analysis stage, before
you know clearly which parts of the situation should best be regarded as process
and which as structure.
Part of a rich picture of a telephone helpline situation
Rich pictures (situation summaries) are used to depict complicated
situations. They are an attempt to encapsulate the real situation through a
no- holds-barred, cartoon representation of all the ideas covered already layout,
connections, relationships, influences, cause-and-effect, and so on. As well
as these objective notions, rich pictures should depict subjective elements
such as character and characteristics, points of view and prejudices, spirit
and human nature. If you are working with a client you should try to draw these
from the actors themselves, at least initially, rather than focusing on your
own interpretation of the situation.
- pictorial symbols;
- To help interpret a situation, choose symbols, scenes or images that
represent the situation. Use as many colours as necessary and draw the symbols
on a large piece of paper. Try not to get too carried away with the fun and
challenge to your ingenuity in finding pictorial symbols.
- Put in whatever connections you see between your pictorial symbols: avoid
producing merely an unconnected set. Places where connections are lacking may
later prove significant.
- Avoid too much writing, either as commentary or as ‘word bubbles’ coming
from people’s mouths (but a brief summary can help explain the diagram to other
- Don’t include systems boundaries or specific references to systems in any
way (see below).
- A rich picture is an attempt to assemble everything that
might be relevant to a complex situation. You should somehow represent every
observation that occurs to you or that you gleaned from your initial survey.
- Fall back on words only where ideas fail you for a sketch that encapsulates
- You should not seek to impose any style or structure on your picture. Place
the elements on your sheet wherever your instinct prompts. At a later stage you
may find that the placement itself has a message for you.
- If you ‘don’t know where to begin’, then the following sequence may help to
get you started:
look for the elements of structure in the situation (these are the parts of the
situation that change relatively slowly over time and are relatively stable,
the people, the set-ups, the command hierarchy, perhaps);
look for elements of process within the situation (these are the things that
are in a state of change: the activities that are going on);
look for the ways in which the structure and the processes interact. Doing this
will give you an idea of the climate of the situation. That is, the ways in
which the structure and the processes relate to each other.
thinking in systems terms. That is, using ideas like: ‘Well, the
situation is made up of a marketing system and a production system and a
quality control system’. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the
word ‘system’ implies organized interconnections and it may
be precisely the absence of such organized interconnectedness
that lies at the heart of the matter: therefore, by assuming its existence (by
the use of the word system) you may be missing the point. Note, however, that
this does not mean that there won’t be some sort of link or connection
between your graphics, as mentioned above. The second reason is that doing so
will channel you down a particular line of thought, namely the search for ways
of making these systems more efficient.
sure that your picture includes not only the factual data about the situation,
but also the subjective information.
at the social roles that are regarded within the situation as
meaningful by those involved, and look at the kinds of behaviour expected from
people in those roles. If you see any conflicts, indicate them.
include yourself in the picture. Make sure that your roles and relationships in
the situation are clear. Remember that you are not an objective observer, but
someone with a set of values, beliefs and norms that colour your perceptions.